Just as the flood waters had finally begun to recede from the hurricane-battered coasts of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, ravenous fires swept across California to singe the wine country. All the while a crippling opioid addiction continued to torture upwards of 2.4 million souls stretched across Kentucky, Ohio, New Hampshire and West Virginia, among others.
Now, you wouldn’t expect the same government program would minister to the needs of Americans affected by historic natural disasters and health crises, but then AmeriCorps is no ordinary government program.
Instead, this under-appreciated, bootstrapped program — a unique public-private partnership that marries federal dollars with demonstrated not-for-profit community and faith-based efforts — is doing innovative work to lift Americans from flood, fire and addiction alike.
There’s a lot of talk these days among Republicans of what and how much must be shaved from the budget if tax reform is to be achieved. They’re right — a tremendous amount has to go. But here’s a Republican telling you now that at least one program, which accounts for just .01 percent of the federal budget, unconditionally deserves your and my tax dollars.
And here’s three timely reasons why.
First, disaster response and recovery
As a function of the federal government’s response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that administers the nation’s national service programs, including AmeriCorps, has deployed north of 2,000 national service members to impacted communities.
AmeriCorps members are no slouches, either. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, AmeriCorps members similarly fanned across the Gulf South in a manner that Haley Barbour, the Mississippi governor at the time, described as the “glue the bound together” the entire response and recovery effort.
There, they trained and coordinated hundreds of thousands of ordinary volunteers who swarmed the states. They organized and staffed distribution centers, shelters and food banks, serving 4.4 million meals. They rebuilt or repaired a dizzying 15,000 damaged homes.
Today, they’re doing the same in the hardest-hit areas of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, where AmeriCorps’ elite disaster response teams are working furiously to establish much-needed volunteer and ovation managements operations in concert with FEMA.
Second, the opioid epidemic
Just last week, the White House declared America’s opioid addiction, which claimed some 59,000 lives last year, a “public health emergency.” While the declaration pointedly did not assign new federal monies, the Corporation for National and Community Service itself has significantly increased its programming to combat the escalating epidemic through abuse prevention, education, reduction and recovery efforts.
Partnering with schools, non-profit community, faith-based groups and local agencies, the Corporation for National and Community Service is funding and staffing some 96 opioid projects in more than 160 communities in 45 states. All told, 1,200 new national service workers are working to educate and empower at-risk youth and other vulnerable populations.
Washington is good at spending our money. But they don’t spend our money well. Three-fourths of all national service money is spent at the direction of governor-appointed state service commissions, because the Corporation for National and Community Service understands — as conservatives do — that states know best.
Third, college affordability
The average cost of college tuition grew by a startling 260 percent between 1980 and 2014, while the average consumer item increased by only 120 percent during the same period. That jump has left many young scholars scrambling to find ways to pay.
Often, national service is likened to military service: both patriotic calls to serve and honor the nation. And like military service, which provides special Armed Forces tuition assistance that makes affording college possible for those who could once only dream of it, AmeriCorps helps its members defray the rising cost of education through special financial aid.
In Tennessee, AmeriCorps tuition assistance made it possible for some 8,000 alumni to attend the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt University and the University of Memphis, funding more than $26.7 million in aid over the years.
In South Carolina, it knocked off $12.5 million for 4,184 alumni of the University of South Carolina, the College of Charleston and Francis Marion University.
In Mississippi, it covered $39 million for 8,590 alumni of Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University and Alcorn State University.
In Missouri, it shaved $30.8 million from the payments of 9,470 alumni of the University of Missouri, Washington University and Saint Louis University.
All told, AmeriCorps alumni have earned $3.3 billion in education awards since the program's inception in 1994.
That's 23 years of patriotic young Americans finding a way to earn an education. That’s 23 years of service to America. That’s 23 years of stronger communities and stronger citizens. That's 23 years that we need to continue.
Eric Tanenblatt is the former chief of staff to Georgia Gov. Sonny PerdueSonny PerdueOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court rules that pipeline can seize land from New Jersey | Study: EPA underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas development | Kevin McCarthy sets up task forces on climate, other issues The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Georgia election day is finally here; Trump hopes Pence 'comes through for us' to overturn results Civil war between MAGA, GOP establishment could hand Dems total control MORE (R) and a senior advisor to the late Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) and served on the Board of Directors of the Corporation of National Community Service from 2008-2013. He is the chairman of the public policy practice at the global law firm Dentons.